MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — He earned kudos for his backward-somersault catch against Alabama, but Jordan Thompson earned no sympathy for getting crunched on a pass he dropped.
Such was the game of extremes for the junior receiver nicknamed “Squirt,” who caught five passes for 62 yards in West Virginia’s 33-23 loss.
Thompson’s rather astonishing 32-yard grab—a tumbling, lunging —was the Mountaineers’ longest play from scrimmage. In the fourth quarter, however, with WVU in Alabama territory and needing a touchdown to tie, he mishandled a pass over the middle mere nano-seconds before a jarring hit by Crimson Tide safety Landon Collins.
After squirming on the turf for only a couple beats, Thompson climbed up even as he realized “I couldn’t breathe.”
He’s not sure how long it took him to finally catch his wind: “I mean, I couldn’t breathe, which was the bad thing, but I knew I had to get up. I couldn’t just lay there on the field.”
The collision made ESPN’s highlight package, exacerbated by the receiver’s 5-foot-7, 165-pound build being halted by the 6-foot, 220 safety.
With Thompson sprinting downfield and looking back for Clint Trickett’s pass, he didn’t see Collins closing from the deep Cover-2 spot. No flag was thrown because Collins led with his shoulder and made primary contact with Thompson’s chest.
Thompson described the play as “a clean hit that wasn’t targeting at all” and one that left him sore on Sunday. West Virginia receivers coach Lonnie Galloway sounded sore Thompson didn’t hang on to the pass.
“He lets our guys knock the crap out of him in practice and he hangs on to it there, so we expect him to catch it in games,” said Galloway, who couldn’t resist ribbing the slot receiver. “He knows you’re going to get hit working that middle … but they’ve got great hospitals down there in Atlanta.”
On Tuesday, Thompson was among the receivers doing post-practice pushups, the penalty for his drop on Collins’ hit and an earlier third-down pass that eluded him as he crossed through a pack of Alabama defenders.
“I could have been more clutch in key situations—had a couple of drops,” Thompson said. “I made a big play, but I feel I need to be more consistent. I was visualizing what I was going to do after I caught the ball instead of catching the ball first. Just lack of focus.”
Galloway said the miscues were surprising given the reliable hands Thompson exhibited throughout the preseason: “In all the 29 practices we had, I bet you Squirt hadn’t dropped 10 total passes.”
Shelton Gibson’s debut: Galloway came off the sideline to coach up redshirt freshman Shelton Gibson after a third-down drop during the second half. While Gibson called the encounter encouraging, Galloway admitted he might have chosen different words “if Shelton was two years older.”
Gibson, who tweaked his knee after catching his first career pass on the previous play, said the injury wasn’t serious. He later returned and made a tackle for the kick-coverage unit.